Returned Peace Corps volunteer Adam Garnica recently shared highlights of his two years as an English teacher in Mongolia through the Institute’s Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program.
“Summarizing my Peace Corps experience is difficult. I spent two years maintaining my own blog (http://www.2secondstreet.wordpress.com/) to help disseminate my experience, and even then, I find that the stories told there only scratch the surface. My favorite posts include my one on the history of Mongolian script, the story of me getting my first deel, and the list and description of traditional Mongolian dairy treats.
I spent two years teaching at a collection of schools, working with 25 teachers and over 2,000 students to help improve English teaching and language ability. I met a variety of fascinating characters who ended up being teachers: Munkhtuya, a nurse who joined the democracy rallies in Sukhbaatar Square back when the country switched from their communist model, Nergui, who ran a small business and observed the illegal fur trade, and Bujidmaa, a young woman born after the revolution who sees new hope for her country. The students were diverse and unique, full of optimism, anxiety, warmth, and promise for the future.
There were wonderful projects where I met unique people. I traveled to the taiga on the border with Russia, in the middle of a national park, to do health and English workshops with the Tsaatan, or Reindeer People. I participated in the English Language Teacher’s Association of Mongolia’s (ELTAM) annual seminar with one of my co-teachers, presenting a poster on a simulation we did on civilizations. I climbed a mountain with several men to watch the sun rise during the lunar new year. I cut a young girl’s hair to signal the end of her infancy. Along the way there were miners, students, business owners, herders, restauranteurs, and welcoming strangers.
Mongolia is going through unique growing pains, and for two years, I saw the effects. Inflation hurt everyone I saw as the value of money spiraled downward. Alcoholism wandered the streets in broad daylight, or sat motionless by the school’s gates. Wealth flowed into the city, but only to select pockets. Skinheads, businessmen, young families, and environmental protestors in traditional garb flooded the streets of the capital, hoping to shape their nation’s future.
The country is so much more than the conquests of Chinggis Khaan, and I’m glad I got to learn and experience a bit of their culture as they work through this important time in their nation’s history. It helped give me a new perspective on the developing world, politics, nature, and education, and how no matter where you go, people want safe, secure, and meaningful lives.
I’m also happy to be back at MIIS, where I know the students and faculty understand the value of what I was able to experience. It’s also nice to not be cold all the time, but that’s another story for another time!”